It must have been almost ten years ago when I was first introduced to the cosplay community by photographer extraordinaire Anna Fischer and since then I’ve been documenting cosplay culture through other websites and now with Nerd Caliber. In the beginning, once in a while, I would catch an odd remark made by a cosplayer about another cosplayer because the color of their skin. If an African-American was cosplaying Sailor Moon for example, I would find it strange that there would be more comments about the color of her skin than the the craftsmanship of her attire. I found it strange because most of these characters are Japanese in origin, so for a Caucasian cosplayer to comment critically against a cosplayer of color to me seems hypocritical.
Now, years later, there is an increasing number of minority groups coming to conventions and joining the cosplay community. I remember when the New York Comic Con first started, I would see a handful of African-American cosplayers. At the New York Comic Con 2011, I would say maybe half the cosplayers there, maybe more, were persons of color. Seeing this change in our cosplay culture, I hoped the racist remarks of old would fade away, but it was not to be so. Just recently, at the Nerd Caliber Youtube channel, I saw this comment:
“why is Virgil being done by a black man I mean Dante looks good and so does lady and a girl for Nero is perfect but why a black guy for Virgil”
The response comes from this video we did with Devil May Cry cosplayers at Connecticon 2011:
After reading that comment, I began to wonder if cosplayers of color consistently have trouble with acceptance in the cosplay community. On Facebook, I went ahead and asked a few African-American cosplayers their opinions about this subject. The question I asked was, “Have you ever experienced a positive or negative reaction to your cosplay or to your “nerd-ism” because of your race or skin color?”
Jackie McAuley: I usually… always get positive reactions when cosplaying. It was the best when I chose to do Dark Link from Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was also my first official cosplay and my first time going to a con. People asked me left and right for pictures, autographs, and just throwing out compliments about how cool my cosplay was. I’m not saying it was the best costume ever (because in my opinion it wasn’t) but it seemed to be pretty popular with con-goers. It gave me more confidence and I felt like it fit more for me as a dark person to do DARK Link instead of the regular blonde hair, blue eyed one.
In response to your question about American otakus being open to people cosplaying as anything despite their characteristics, I feel that a big majority of American otakus and cosplayers are open to it and so am I. You can’t help the way you were born and you can’t let people tell you how you should have fun. Most people are just doing what they love and that’s dressing up as their favorite characters and having fun with it. That’s what cosplay is all about. We’re all nerds so why judge? : )
Treva Mathis: Not to my face, but around the internet people will usually give some pretty racist replies to black cosplayers/lolitas, even if they’re cosplaying a dark skin character. At a convention there are some people who didn’t mind I was cosplaying a lighter character, but the reactions to other dark-skinned cosplayers that weren’t so lucky, make me apprehensive.
Ashi Ga: I have had positive reactions with my cosplays. People at cons or gatherings will comment about how beautiful/cool my cosplay is. I have also had some negative comments said about my cosplay because I have dark skin. I won’t post the names I’ve been called but it wasn’t cool. ;_; I remember a while back ago I posted my Vampire Knight Yuki cosplay and the first thing someone said was about my skin tone & cosplaying Yuki, which hurt because I just wanted to post like everyone else. Besides that, I’ve had a lot of people telling me that my cosplay is awesome and beautiful. Some said because they saw my cosplay, they were inspired to keep cosplaying or they started to cosplay. I feel that generally American Otakus are generally okay with it, but I do feel that there is still a big number of cosplayers that are not openminded about it and still say really mean things. I just hope that those people would kindly look at themselves and ask if that is the person they really want to turn into.
Nami GlamRock: I have only done about four cosplays and of course I am my biggest critic so I thought [the costumes] were only okay. But I did get a nice reception from people and many others took my picture. I’ve never had a negative comment said about me or my cosplays (that I know of). Although on certain forums and websites, I do see rude or immature comments made about others because of their skin color. Now I don’t see it all the time, just every now and then. One comment I can remember clearly was “That cosplay looks great but that character isn’t black! lol”…. I just thought to myself how could anyone be thinking like this! It’s freaking 2012 ya’ know! And let’s say I see a person that’s not of color that cosplays a black or Hispanic character. No one questions it! But for the most part I feel American Otakus are pretty open or becoming more open.
Elizabeth O’Neil: A positive reaction I kept getting one year was when people kept referring to me as “Black Venus” when I cosplayed Super Sailor Venus at Fanime. I could tell it was a term of endearment though :3 Luckily I’ve never been called any blatantly negative racial slurs or anything, except one time when a group of black guys from school asked what music I was listening to, and I said it was J-Pop. They were like “Why don’t you listen to the music of YOUR people?” I was like wut?
SweetMagic Cosplay: I’ve been cosplaying for about 5 years now and while most of my costumes I’ve received a lot of positive feedback and praise, there have been times throughout the years in which people have made openly racists remarks to me whenever I cosplay a character who is not dark skinned. For instance, right when I got into cosplay and did a character (Alice Elliot from Shadow Hearts) one of my photos ended up on a very hateful website that bashed what they called “awful looking” cosplayers and those who cosplay outside of their race. At first I was so hurt and upset over the incident, but then I got over it. Cosplay is for fun and should be the one hobby in which you shouldn’t have to worry about people judging you for reasons you can’t control. I think cosplay has turned into a beauty contest lately rather than a art form that expresses your love for the character you dress up as.
We will have at least two more articles about this issue this week, where we will talk to other nerds, geeks and cosplayers, including interviews with cosplay photographer Adam Howell, Natsuki Shinaito (one of the editors of CosplayNYC), Jason A. Canty (CEO & President at Angry Viking Press LLC) and Brena Robinson who dresses lolita-style.
What do you think? Whatever your descent, has race been an issue in your cosplay experience?